Water shed and blood shed

There has been a lot of debate recently about what is appropriate, what is gratuitous, what is deliberately alarming and what is necessary for broadcast. From films which were deemed too graphic and disturbing to screen, to the controversy surrounding the BBC’s decision to show the final hours of a man who took his own life last night, what should be shown or seen is a topic of the moment. 

Much of this debate centres around when scenes are aired. 11.05 pm is hardly prime time, and even the hardiest of children should be abed, yet the screening tonight of Channel 4’s Sri Lanka's Killing Fields has not exactly gone unnoticed. 

Described as “some of the most violent and disturbing scenes ever broadcast in the UK”, the footage, captured on a mobile phone camera, show the atrocities committed in the final days of the Sri Lankan civil war. 

Viewers are exposed to devastating scenes that seem to show Sri Lankan government troops executing prisoners. They can see dead female Tamil Tigers who appear to have been raped and murdered. And they can see the cynical use by Tamil Tigers of civilians as a buffer against the Sri Lankan military. They can even see the shelling by Sri Lankan forces of crowded hospitals and civilian encampments in areas that the authorities ironically dubbed “no-fire zones”. 

Sadly, this is not news to us. We have been calling for an enquiry into crimes against humanity committed in the final days of the conflict for a long time. Yet the power of this footage resulted in an Early Day Motion brought before the commons last Thursday, so it seems that images paint a thousand words and force political hands.  Broadcast journalists were not there at the time of these atrocities, but showing this footage obtained by people who were, goes some way to addressing that absence. 

It’s not that it shouldn’t be shown, it is that it should not have happened, and can not be allowed to be denied and to go un-investigated. Such a failure in accountability and in providing justice and catharsis for a country would be a real horror to reveal to the world –  to children and adults alike. Since the Sri Lankan authorities continue to ardently reject calls for an enquiry and deny that  crimes against humanity took place, there is no option remaining. The show must go on.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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